skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [23 February 1863]1

Royal Gardens Kew | Kew


Dr Darwin

I am deeply grieved to see Owen’s letter in the Athenæum, because, be he right or be he wrong, it will do Lyell awful injury, & I am sure cut him & his family to the soul.2

I have not read that Chapter of Lyells, only glanced at it, but feared the result, from Falconer & Huxley both being perfectly satisfied that L. had gone quite far enough!3 The worst of it is that; I suppose it is virtually Huxley’s writing, & that L. will find great difficulty in answering Owen unaided, & this is a dreadful position to be in.— he fought under Achilles shield!4 I fear L. will get scant pity even from his own side, for F spoke to me the other night in most strongly slighting terms of so much of Lyell’s book being written by others.5 I am most anxious to hear what you think if your head will allow you to send me one line I shall be thankful,6 for I do feel quite heartsore about poor L.—assuming as I must that he will feel it deeply— What horrid accusations & how spitefully put, & God knows that there is some ground for Owen’s putting it down to personal feeling.— Do you know I met Owen at Sabines on Friday night,7—he was most gracious, “Hookering” me across the table. Detesting the man’s mind & conduct as I do, I cannot say I have the smallest ill-feeling towards him.— I can hate & respect; I cannot hate & despise—& I do on my conscience think that I despise Owen’s mind and conduct too single mindedly to care one atom for his individuality— I look on him now as a poor miserable devil of a scotched viper, turning & poisoning with a bite what he can neither strangle nor gorge. But by the Lord I am shut up— poor dear Lyell—it is an awful accusation to have hove at one—hit or miss—in the way this is hove. How devilish ingenious the introduction is.

I am smothered with Examinations this week 53 men fr the Army & two 6 hours viva voce, besides 53 3 hours papers!—8 I wish I were rich enough to throw these examinations overboard—& I dare say I shall spend them on Wedgewoods!9 after all—& that’s something!

We grow Acropera in pots with moss, like Catasetum.10

As to the ventilators, I do not think them worth the expense, & intended telling you that removing 112 brick opposite the pipes, & having a removable plug of wood is all the same. I will get the name however11

P.S. No one can recollect the name of the ventilator maker, but the place is by Stanley bridge, King’s Road Chelsea12

Glass men—Jas Powell & sons, Whitefriars City.13

Ever yours affec | J D Hooker


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863].
The reference is to a letter by Richard Owen, published in the Athenæum on 21 February 1863, pp. 262–3, in which Owen objected to remarks made by Charles Lyell in a section of Antiquity of man entitled ‘Whether the structure of the human brain entitles man to form a distinct sub-class of the Mammalia’ (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 480–93). Lyell argued that Owen had based his case for a distinct difference between the anatomy of human and simian brains in Owen 1857, 1859a, 1860b, and 1861b on diagrams of a chimpanzee brain published by the Dutch anatomists Jacob Lodewijk Coenraad Schroeder van der Kolk and Willem Vrolik, long after these diagrams were proved to have been based on a distorted specimen. Owen argued that Lyell had been responsible for misstatements ‘in order to impress his readers with the notion that I had a desire to promote and persist in promoting an error, and to mislead the public’, and described Lyell’s account as ‘inferential calumny’. For an account of the debate surrounding Owen’s work on simian brain anatomy, see Rupke 1994, pp. 266–86.
Hooker refers to chapter 24 of Lyell’s Antiquity of man, entitled ‘Bearing of the doctrine of transmutation on the origin of man, and his place in the creation’ (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 471–506), in which Lyell provided a review of the controversy between Owen and Thomas Henry Huxley regarding the comparative anatomy of human and simian brains (see n. 2 above). Hooker also refers to the palaeontologist Hugh Falconer, who was also engaged in a dispute with Owen (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863], and letter to Hugh Falconer, 5 [and 6] January [1863]).
The reference is to the Greek hero Achilles, and to the episode in Homer’s Iliad, Book 16, where Patroclus takes Achilles’ armour in order to assist the Greeks in battle against the Trojans, but is killed by Hector.
Falconer publicly criticised Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a) in a letter published in the Athenæum on 4 April 1863, pp. 459–60. Falconer complained that Lyell had given insufficient credit to the work of himself, Joseph Prestwich, John Evans and others in establishing human antiquity, and had not made any original contribution to the debate. For a discussion of Falconer’s attack on Lyell, see Bynum 1984 and L. G. Wilson 1996a.
Hooker refers to the president of the Royal Society, Edward Sabine, and to his meeting Owen on Friday 20 February 1863, the evening before Owen’s letter appeared in the Athenæum (see n. 2, above).
Hooker served for many years as a scientific examiner for medical officers in the armed services (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 387). Examinations for admission to the Army Medical Service were held at Chelsea Hospital in February 1863 (Statistical, Sanitary, and Medical Reports 5 (1865): 582–3). Hooker also held examinerships with the East India Company, the Apothecaries Company, and London University (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 385, 537).
In his letter to Hooker of [21 February 1863], CD asked whether Acropera orchids should be ‘grown in Basket, or pot or Block of wood?’ The Acropera orchids were included with the hothouse plants that CD received from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on 20 February 1863.
In his letter of [21 February 1863], CD asked Hooker to recommend a firm to assist with the ventilation of the new hothouse at Down House. See also n. 12, below.
The reference is to the firm of John Weeks & Co., horticultural engineers, of Sussex Terrace, Chelsea, London (Post Office London directory 1863).
Hooker refers to the glass manufacturers James Powell & Sons of Fleet Street, Whitefriars, London (Post Office London directory 1863). CD wished to purchase some ‘bell-glasses’ for experiments and had asked Hooker to recommend a supplier (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [21 February 1863]).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

Rupke, Nicolaas A. 1994. Richard Owen, Victorian naturalist. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.


Owen’s cutting critique of Lyell’s book [Antiquity of man] in Athenæum [21 Feb 1863, pp. 262–3]. JDH despises Owen’s mind too much to hate his individuality.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 105–7
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4007,” accessed on 20 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11